Effective leaders have skills to navigate today’s challenges.  As a result, they are in high demand.  That makes sense, because an organization without leaders who can deal with today’s rapid pace of change is at risk.  If it cannot find a way to get the work done while also accommodating employees’ expectations, it is at higher risk.  Critically, if it cannot meet customer expectations, it is at tremendous risk.  Organizations with leaders who have the necessary skills will take advantage of opportunities; without these leaders, organizations will struggle, and in worst-case scenarios, may not survive.

This post evolved from my initial interest in examining decisions organizations and employees face as they determine what work of the future will look like.  Would it be virtual… in an office… some blend?  Research helped me conclude that although “work location” is a timely topic, it is only one of many decisions leaders have to make.  While important, it is not pivotal.  Today, organizations have an opportunity to effectively move forward and thrive, but action is required.  Leaders must make the right decisions.  Inertia will be devastating.

Why it’s important

The work environment has moved from predictability, where employees work toward long-term goals, to “whatever happens next.”  One consultant has even trademarked the term “No Normal” to describe this environment.  Leaders and employees must define how to succeed in today’s normal.

There is no precedent to help everyone deal with the issues and pressures.  Remote work has added a new layer of complexity.  Because of this, jobs are increasingly challenging.  What was exciting in the past may not be part of the job today.  Employees at all levels in the organization may not engage because they find their job less attractive.  It may no longer accommodate their career expectations.  Many organizations are dealing with turnover, unfilled jobs, and frustration in finding appropriate candidates.

The obvious answer is to recruit and retain the right people at all levels, but for a number of reasons, organizations are finding that extremely challenging.

Why it’s not easy

Recruiting becomes much more difficult at leadership levels where requirements to be effective have changed significantly.  Today’s leaders must consider an increasingly complex unknown, while dealing with a much broader scope of concerns than in the past.  Social and stakeholder issues have joined economic performance as measures of success.  Organizations should not have to make a choice between sustained and inclusive growth.  Having leaders with the capability to adapt is every organization’s greatest challenge.

In an environment where leaders set the pace by listening, assessing, engaging, and fostering change, skills that worked pre-pandemic are no longer sufficient.  It follows that today’s leaders require a new set of competencies that include strong people, communications, empathy, curiosity, and adaptability skills.  These are skills not previously considered a high priority.  As a consequence, a relatively small number of leaders, at any level, have these skills.

Organizations have alternatives to address this leadership challenge.  One option is to support their current leaders through a leadership development program.  That takes a commitment.  Another is to identify and recruit leaders from outside the organization.  A “tight” talent pool makes that a challenge, but with the right approach, it is certainly doable.  That also takes a commitment.  Whatever choice organizations make, they will only successfully move forward if they commit to have leaders with skills to navigate today’s challenges.

If you do not have these leaders in your organization, what are you doing about it?  Action is required.